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Israelis looking forward to a positive change in US-Israeli relationship

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In a speech on Sunday night, Jerusalem Post political analyst Gil Hoffman said Israelis are looking forward to a Trump president.

With just one week remaining before the inauguration, many members of the Jewish community here and across the country continue to be conflicted about the upcoming Donald Trump presidency. On the other hand, Israelis are not concerned. In fact, Jews in Israel are looking forward to a Trump presidency.

That’s according to Gil Hoffman, the chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post. He spoke Sunday evening to a group of about 60 people at The Shul — Chabad of Leawood. The speech was given just hours after a truck crashed into a group of soldiers in eastern Jerusalem, killing four and injuring at least 15. (See related story page 4) 

“May they be the last sacrifices we have in Israel,” noted Rabbi Mendy Wineberg before he introduced Hoffman.

Regarding the attack, Hoffman said he hoped the world would condemn it, “but I’m not holding my breath.” He explained that Israeli Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu has tried to get world leaders to condemn terrorist attacks in Israel before, telling them that if they weren’t universally condemned, terrorism would flourish in other cities.

“And it has happened in France and Germany,” he said. 

The prepared speech, “Red States, Blue States, and the Jewish State: Washington, D.C. — Jerusalem Relations from an Israeli Insider,” covered a variety of topics ranging from the recent criminal allegations facing Israeli Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu, security, the U.N. Security Council’s anti-settlements resolution, the prospect for peace and Israel’s relationship with the United States. That included Israelis strong dislike for President Barack Obama and their excitement toward the upcoming Trump presidency.

Hoffman explained that Israelis didn’t always dislike Obama. When he was running for president in 2008, he was in Israel and visited Sderot, a town that had been hit by many rockets. 

“He said if my house were under attack where my two daughters sleep at night I would do everything possible to stop it. Israelis really appreciated it that he went there at a time when they weren’t even going there,” said the American-born and educated Hoffman, who has been with the Post for almost 20 years.

By the end of that first campaign, Hoffman said Israeli started to see the same Obama magic that captured the hearts of many Americans. It gave Hoffman the idea to have the Post conduct polls to see what Israelis think about the president of the United States.

“Those polls have become part of the historical record. I’ve already seen at least two history books written about the Obama administration that quote my polls. It’s really cool when you open up a history book and see your name. And we at the Jerusalem Post write the first draft of history every day,” he said.

The polls chronicled Obama’s drop in popularity, at one time even lower than the poll’s margin of error. Hoffman offered several reasons why Israelis lost confidence in Obama.

“… the center and left were disappointed by Obama. These are the people who wanted there to be a peace process and who he absolutely, totally, colossally failed. The reason why there has been no peace process in the last eight years is because of him, stepping in every puddle no matter who he blames. And the reason why Israelis don’t like him is because he forced out a moderate leader in Egypt. He set a red line in Syria that he went and crossed, undermining American credibility and then made a deal with Iran behind everyone’s backs. That’s why Israelis don’t like him,” Hoffman said.

In fact, Hoffman said the only time in eight years Obama’s popularity in Israel rose to more than 50 percent was in September 2011, when the president went to the United Nations and cast a veto on a resolution that would create a Palestinian state.

But things turned sour again, and, Hoffman said, “Last month was very, very troubling to see an outgoing president try to handcuff the next president and take a step that will make it much harder for him to make peace.”

“By abstaining while facilitating that vote (U.N. Security Council anti-settlements resolution) Obama made a very, very bad mistake.” (See related story page 19).

Hoffman pointed out that Obama had been opposed to settlements most of his presidency and it was a policy former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton opposed. In her memoir “Hard Choices,” Clinton said she advised Obama to have very different policies in Israel regarding the Palestinians and settlements.

“She told him, if you focus too much on settlements, there won’t be a peace process,” said Hoffman, who has spoken in 49 of 50 U.S. states and is married to KC native Maayan Pase Hoffman. Between them they have seven children.

Hoffman claims there was a peace process just once during the Obama presidency, and it took place for only nine months. That was the only period when Obama told Israel he would turn a blind eye to construction.

“When America was telling Israel not one brick (meaning do not build new settlements), there was no peace process,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said he believes Israelis would have liked Clinton had she been elected, as would Netanyahu.

“In private conversations with me, he believed even though he didn’t always get along with Bill Clinton … he believed he could get along with Hilary quite well.”

Hoffman said Israelis don’t really understand American politics, pointing out that Israelis have liked and hated both Republican and Democratic presidents. 

“Israelis loved Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, even though they had exact opposite approaches to how to solve the Middle East conflict.”

While Donald Trump has never been to Israel, Hoffman said the president-elect has learned a lot about Israel in the last several months and Israelis can see the contrast they will get between what they have had these past eight years and what they will have in the future.

“We will go from a president who condemns building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem to a president who wants to move his embassy there. We’re going to go from a president who thinks that the worst thing for peace in the Middle East is building settlements to having a president who appoints an ambassador who funds them. We are going to go from having a president who takes Israel to the U.N. Security Council to having a president who will defund the U.N. for passing that very resolution that America facilitated just last month.”

Hoffman posed the questions that are on the minds of many liberal American Jews: Will Trump keep his promises regarding Israel? He said he hopes Trump keeps the promises that he made in his speech at AIPAC. Those promises include vetoing any anti-Israel resolution that comes to the U.N.; stopping the U.N. from delegitimatizing Israel; and making sure from day one that Israel will stop being a second-class citizen.

“He’s going to try to make peace in the Middle East. He said the chances for peace rise exponentially when the U.S. is on Israel’s side and he will tell the Palestinians you have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. We’ll see if he does it. I think Netanyahu will cooperate with him.”

Hoffman said Netanyahu finally has the Republican president that he can get along with. The question is now: What is Netanyahu going to do?

“The impression I’ve gotten from the people closest to Netanyahu is that he is going to try to make a deal with Trump. He is going to try to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He’s not going to start building everywhere like the right is going to be pressuring him to do.”